Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Planes, automobiles, trains, taxis

Last night I embarked on my normal commute between New York City and Dulles, VA. Normally I'm on the AOL shuttle which is convenient and drops me at my hotel. Last night due to weather it was canceled so we had two options, 1) stay in local hotel in NJ 2) take Amtrak to DC and taxi it over to AOL HQ. There were a few other AOL colleagues in a similar situation, two of which decided to go the train route as well.

We had a friendly driver take us from the airport to Newark Penn Station. Waited about an hour for Amtrak to show up. We passed time in the bar enjoying a couple performing CPR on each other at the bar and a group of business associates getting so blasted that they were slurring the words.

Leave Newark 9:15 arrive Washington DC 12am

We get a taxi, hoping for one that accepts credit cards. No luck.

Off we go, I'm in the back, I strap in and proceed to fall asleep. I can sleep anywhere under almost any conditions.

I'm most proud of the time I drank a Starbucks grande double red-eye and feel asleep 20 minutes later.

I wake up about 15 minutes from HQ and I notice the driver veering off the road onto the shoulder. Our AOL co-pilot promptly tells the driver to get back on the road. Apparently this has been happening the entire drive. Good thing I was traveling with others, I would have been in a ditch some where.

Not sure if the guy was drunk, tired, or just had some kind of inner ear balance issue which caused him to drift to the right.

Monday, August 28, 2006

AOL's FREE Active Virus Shield

I'm really impressed with AOL's AVS (active virus shield). I downloaded it for both my mother-in-law's computer and my personal laptop. Very easy and no strings attached (you do have to provide your email address)!

I had used McAfee and it seemed to slow down my machine, with it uninstalled I'm much happier.

CNET's editors gave it a 7 out of 10.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Verizon Wireless Customer Service

Interesting coincidence in the mail this morning.

I had to call Verizon Wireless the other day about my bill because it seemed to be higher than normal. After talking with the rep I found out that they bill one month in advance for their wireless data card. OK

Today in the mail comes an envelope from VZW which thanks me for being a customer and encourages me to call their telephone support. What they also included was a nice handy reference card so I could find out my balance by simply dialing a few characters.

I'd love to see the customer service model and the savings this letter saves them on support calls.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Pig roast pictures and video coming

I attended my wife's uncle's pig roast last night - a great time was had by all. I have some pictures of the pigs cooking as well as the carving. This will also be my first attempt at video as I recorded the process of putting them on the spit.

Stay tuned

Anybody know of some free video editing software?

Posted East bound on 495 @ Exit 27

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Follow-up to my bus posting

I received some interesting feedback on my bus posting. I feel it's necessary to follow-up since I think the comments are completely fair and they exposed some points I should have made.

Comment #2:
"Although its a noble thought, in reality not many organizations reward individuals for "taking one for the Gipper." "

This is a very true statement, many organization do not reward individuals for taking the blame.
"To take the hit for someone else's mistakes -- is a mistake."

True sometimes, but the key to all of this is having aircover from your boss. If they are measuring you on results and not on the number mistakes (real or assumed) you are in good shape.

Critical for taking the blame is the ability for you to solve the problem so it doesn't resurface again. If your work to fix the problem then leads to better company results that your boss sees along with other leadership the blame won't matter anymore. Usually people already know who the responsible parties are but due to various political reasons finger pointing isn't efficient.

If your company is filled with corporate assassins then you should probably find a new company.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Better Ad Targeting = Better Content

There was a recent article in the NY Times about behavioral targeting on the Internet. I’ve read many posts by people who expose how they block ads and if they found content of value on the Internet they would pay the owner for it. I’m not going to debate about how much of this follow through occurs, what I will debate is whether better targeting is bad.

Disclaimer, I’m an Internet ad guy, my career has been about maximizing revenue per thousand impressions. Simple, yet not as easy as you think, I’ve cut my teeth on optimizing and Smoker’s surveys to name a few.

Those of you who think I’m evil you can stop now, otherwise read on.

Let’s lay out some assumptions:

We are a consumptive society – we have jobs to make money to buy things that increase our standard of living.

We are like entertainment – that comes in the form of tv, magazines, Internet, etc. We consume media, which is made up of content, which costs money to produce.

Now let’s discuss the business of media on a simple level:

Media companies make money by the following math:

Sell advertising space to companies who want to reach the consumers of their content
The cost of creating the content
The cost of potential advertising to bring the right people to the content and hopefully then become a customer of the content (their advertising)

What’s left?


Now let’s remember back to our Economics 101 college class:

Demand and supply must cross at some point and that’s the point of equilibrium.

It’s the point where everyone pays a certain price and the supply is a certain level.

Let’s wrap in the quote, “50% of my advertising is wasted, I just don’t know which 50%.”

Now let’s take a look at consumer behavior:

I talk to people about the digital herd, the people on MySpace, the herd is clearly grazing there. Look at their traffic numbers, their amazing. One miss-step and you might see the herd stamped elsewhere. My guess is that they will focus on things that enforce the network effects. Similar to why banks want you to signup for online checking. It’s sticky, MySpace needs to make sure they have sticky offerings.

The digital herd will graze where the grass is tastiest, if someone else can offer tastier grass and get enough people aware of it the stamped is on to the new patch of grass.

This threat of stamped then leads to innovation. Stop innovating, your grass is stale, and the herd is off. Investment in better grass is critical.

Now back to my main point:

Investment is needed to make sure the content is the best to keep the consumers consuming. Better targeting of advertising which yields higher rates for the ads potentially leads to higher profits, which then gives the media company resources to create better content.

Profits allow them to keep their pastures fertilized and green.

Two Paychecks

My wife and I were taking care of switching our Maryland drivers liscenses over to New York state yesterday and on an errand we ran into the John DeMayo’s father.

Mr. DeMayo is a great guy, successful businessman and a wealth of great knowledge and insight. We talked about business and life and he told me about what he’d say to every employee when he hired them.

“You have the chance to earn two paychecks from me, the first one is what I pay you for the work you do today for me. The second paycheck is what you are going to learn on the job and then have the potential to sell back to me in the future. If I don’t pay you for it you can sell it to another employer.” Note this is approximately what Mr. DeMayo said.

This is a great concept, he obviously had a learning company. It’s a great way for employees to think about their job, the second paycheck is what gets you ahead.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Make sure they feel the bus go bump bump on its way over you

It’s a well known fact that taking responsibility for your mistakes is one of those easy to do behaviors, but it’s seldom done. People are worried about the consequences of accepting their errors which then prevents embracing a solution to the original cause of the mistake. It was definitely something that I learned to do and it made a big difference in my performance.

If taking responsibility for your mistakes is a painful process, here’s something that will make your head spin.

Take the blame for a problem even when it’s not your fault. This is what I mean by let the bus ride right over you, versus letting everyone jockey to avoid going under the bus.

Think about musical chairs, one seat is missing. Everyone is focused on getting a seat. I realize it’s a game, but if you watch people play they are so focused on finding a chair. Imagine if the goal was to figure out how solve the problem of being one chair short. You have X people focused on producing another chair versus X people focusing on the closest chair to them. X times greater focus on finding one chair.

If you’re trying to solve a problem whether it is human, process, or external in nature the best way to get to the problem solving process is to skip the blame process. Some organizations don’t play the blame game, others do.

If you find yourself in one of the blame game companies then you need to throw yourself under the bus. This is how you will be able to fix tons of problems in a short amount of time. If everyone is looking to avoid blame they aren’t going to be thinking about how to fix the problem. The solution might show a personnel training gap or a fault in a process that someone was responsible for creating. People inherently don’t like to make a mistake which then makes it hard to solve an issue if they feel it will bring a negative spotlight on them. Takeaway the potential for a spotlight and they are more comfortable working on the problem.

That’s why it’s critical to make sure they feel the bump bump, when you take the blame and throw yourself under the bus you want to make sure that everyone feels (translation = everyone feels they are now safe) the problem (translation = bus = blame) run you right over. You’re the carcass (you took responsibility for the mistake, you’re in the spotlight) and now we can carry on with the postmortem.

The postmortem is where you will then be able to fix the issue because everyone is relaxed because someone else has taken the fall.

Problem gets solved and in the end that’s what it’s all about anyway.

Quote of the day from Foxnews article

"While there has been sabotage, Davis said there has never been an act of terrorism on America's rail system. That's proof, he said, of just how secure the railways are."

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Innovation at Legal Seafoods

Tonight while grabbing dinner at Legal Seafoods in downtown Baltimore, I experienced a truly empowered staff.

I ordered gluten-free calamari which is calamari dusted in corn meal. Apparently they ran out of cornmeal, so instead they took gluten-free croutons and ground them up in a food processor. They alerted me to the issue after they had implemented the solution and offered the appetizer for free.

The initiative and inventiveness was refreshing because most of my dining experiences end up with, “sorry, we ran out, etc etc.”

This is the kind of innovation and empowerment that should happen at every business, hats off to the manager and his team.

One, maybe two data points

If you’ve been reading the news you know about AOL’s new strategy direction and the ability to keep using AOL (not everything, but almost everything email being the most important) without paying us any monthly subscription fee.

If you read Ted’s blog you read his perspective on the significance of this strategy shift. Ted writes, "Just wait until all AOL ISP members can take all of AOL with them when they move to broadband. Just wait until everyone can keep their AOL client and use their AOL email for life - for free!"

Why am I blogging about this topic? Because today, I traveled up to Baltimore from Dulles. Tomorrow I spend the day at my “old” company, and as I checked into the hotel tonight in downtown Baltimore I had a conversation with the front desk person that reinforced that this was the absolute right move.

“Who do you work for?”

Almost saying, I tell her, “AOL”

“Oh, I’m about to cancel the service to go to Comcast, but I don’t want to lose my email.”

Ceasing the opportunity and putting my sales cap back on, “You know you can switch and still keep your email address?”

“Really?? I want to get a new laptop and Comcast cable access, but everyone knows my email address.”

“Sure you can keep it, just get your pipe to the Internet from someone else. Haven’t you seen the email from Jon Miller, our CEO?”

“Nope, behind on my email..working all the time at the hotel.”

Yes I know this is only one data point, but I have to believe there are millions like her who would have gotten up the courage and put up with the pain of an email address switch and we would have lost her for good.

One other data point is my aunt, who loves the client. She loves the client. Wants to get high-speed, but doesn’t want to lose the client. Now she doesn’t have to give it up.

Now that the uncertainty of AOL’s future strategy is gone, it’s time to focus on building audiences and providing them with relevant advertising.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Non-displaced fractured tibia

Thinking I'd pick up a new activity, I purchased a Carve Board.

While trying to learn this new contraption I found myself having to jump off the board to avoid hitting a mail box at high speed.

My right foot hit the ground and extreme pain ensued. I walked it off, but it still wasn't right. After about 2 weeks of on and off pain I thought a visit to the orthopedic surgeon might be a good idea. My doctor was great, he first x-rayed my knee, nothing showed up. Next was an MRI because he thought it could be a meniscus tear.

Ended up getting a call yesterday, I apparently fractured my tibia near my knee but the bone never displaced. Prescription - don't seriously shock my right leg for a couple weeks. Never knew you could break a tibia bone and not have a serious problem.